State’s (California) terrible highways are getting worse

COST Comments: Hopefully, we will never see an article like this about Central Texas. It would indicate we are on the slippery slope of economic decline which California is on and gaining momentum.

By Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee: October 27, 2008

Why do we Californians put up with lousy highways – not only the nation’s most congested – but with perhaps its worst bone-jarring, suspension-damaging pavement conditions?

Three recent personal road trips covering nearly 5,000 miles of interstate freeways, state highways, county roads and city streets in 17 states proved again to this driver that our roads are a disgrace. I encountered more bad pavement in one 80-mile drive down Interstate 80 to the Bay Area last week than in all of those out-of-state miles combined.

Why should motorists in Georgia, West Virginia or Minnesota, to name three of the states, enjoy blemish-free pavement, even on secondary and tertiary roads, while we slam into sloppily repaired potholes or dodge those not yet indifferently filled?

The data of highway maintenance are revealing. Our highways carry enormous numbers of cars and trucks, each of the latter with the wear-and-tear effect of 18,000 autos. This traffic beats up pavement and underlying roadbed. We should spend what’s needed on maintenance and rehabilitation to offset the damage, but we don’t.

California’s gas tax, at 18 cents a gallon, is tied for dead-last (with Alabama) among the 17 states covered by those three road trips. The others range as high as 32.2 cents in West Virginia and 32.9 cents in Wisconsin.

California’s gas tax hasn’t been increased in more than a decade. Revenue is flat because as cars and trucks become more efficient, they use less fuel to travel a given distance. Moreover, that flat revenue is eroded even further by inflation.

The California Transportation Commission puts it this way: “The state’s gas tax can now only cover between 50 and 60 percent of the annual rehabilitation need … rapidly increasing the number of distressed lane miles on the system. In 2001-02, the amount of distressed lanes miles was approximately 10,400. The number in 2005-06 was more than 13,800. Caltrans estimates that every dollar of preventative maintenance saves $6 in rehabilitation and $20 in major reconstruction costs. This under-investment is unsafe and has led to California having the second worst road conditions in the nation.”

Or perhaps the worst. The Road Information Program, or TRIP, a Washington-based organization, says eight of the 20 major urban areas with the worst pavement conditions are in California. The Los Angeles area, with 65 percent in poor condition, is No. 1, followed by the Bay Area with 62 percent. TRIP estimates that bad pavement costs the average Los Angeles motorist $778 per year in added auto maintenance – much more than the $100 that a 10-cent gas tax increase would cost.

Bottom line: California roads are awful, they’re getting worse, and there’s an unspoken political conspiracy to block improvement. Conservative politicians oppose any new taxes, and liberals implicitly believe that intolerable roads will propel drivers into buses, trolleys and trains. The rest of us suffer.

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